Cy Wakeman
Cy Wakeman, Author

Whenever I ask people about what holds them back and keeps them from delivering results as leaders, the lists are long. However, I contend that our leadership issues have little to do with our circumstances but it is the absence of leadership based in reality that causes our issues.  We have to adopt a whole new way of leading.  Many long-held ideas about leadership have not evolved with the changing world and are no longer effective. From open-door policies to problem employees, this blog challenges some conventional wisdom and provides new ways to think about how to be a great leader.  I look forward to the time we will have together to discuss these ideas further.


Close the Door on What You Think You Know About Leadership

Leaders are still subscribing to many things they have been told over the years – even though the world around them has changed and those adages have stopped producing good results. Now is the time to ditch the concepts and ideas that are hindering results.

Don’t Play Favorites

If there is one idea that leaders everywhere need to adopt, it is that differentiation is critical.  The biggest complaint of high performing employees is that everyone is treated the same. There is one exception. If I perform well, it is likely that I am rewarded with more work.  Leaders work around low performers and give their work to the high performers!

When people accuse me of playing favorites I say, “Absolutely I do.  Would you like to be one?”  Of course I am more flexible with a person on my team who delivers more and is more accountable.  All employees are not created equal and we need to stop treating them equally if we want to ditch the drama that shows up in our workplaces.  Another reason to buy-in to this idea is because the larger part of our employee population pays attention to what behaviors get rewarded.  When you continually reward average performance or subpar performance, you inevitable lower the bar for the entire organization.  Leaders argue with the reality that they cannot make everyone happy.  In an attempt to try to make everyone happy, they upset the wrong people – the high performers.  This is insanity.

Everyone Has Problem Employees

Whether you believe something is possible or impossible, you are absolutely correct. We have resistant employees because we hold the mindsets that it is impossible not to. But, in fact, there are organizations that aren’t entrenched in drama and saddled by problem employees. If you have problem employees, it is because you:

·      Hired them

·      Rewarded their behavior

·      Failed to coach and provide feedback when you observed their problematic behavior or

·      Refused to terminate them when the coaching failed


Think about what you believe about leadership. Break through your own beliefs as a leader and find your personal level of accountability so you can get the results you want in your work environment. Challenge what you believe to be true. It is the beginning of the journey to having a peaceful life at work.

Open Door Policies Are Necessary

As a leader, you may have learned that you should be approachable and have an open door policy. Unfortunately, leaders incorrectly deduce that people should be able to approach them with anything they have on their minds.

Let’s be very clear; it is a great quality to be approachable. However, being approachable without coaching and teaching employees during these open door visits is not helpful.

Too many times, open doors are simply portals for drama. Take a moment to think about the people who have come to your office with the infamous question, “Do you have a minute?” Were those visits about the individual standing in your open door at that moment? Probably not. Most of the time, these visits are for employees to:

·      Create a triangle where the two of you talk about a third person that is not there

·      Safely vent, insist on some sort of anonymity for the situation they vented about, and remove themselves from the responsibility of taking any action

·      Feel justified or self-righteous for judging the actions of others (who, again, are not present)

You must help employees understand what things are worth bringing up: information that is valuable to you as a leaderor valuable to the workplace in some way. Here is a look at a helpful way to handle one-on-one coaching sessions.

Schedule Coaching Sessions

First things first, close your door and schedule almost all of your coaching sessions. If you are meeting with everyone individually, your purpose is to help with his or her development. So, schedule individual staff meetings regularly with your employees as a standard practice.

Let your employees know that you will have time to be completely focused on them in these standard meetings, whereas you will typically be preoccupied with other things if they just randomly stop by with issues.

Remain Neutral and Redirect the Focus

Secondly, your role as the leader is to remain neutral and help to redirect your employees’ focus to things they can control or have an impact on. In these meetings, allow employees to discuss issues that are barriers for them. If their concern involves such things as someone else’s work attire, start time, or productivity level, redirect the conversation by asking them, “What have you done to help?”

Typically the answer is that they’ve done nothing besides bring the issue to your attention – tattling. Your role is to remind them of the things they should be focused on in order to be an asset to the team. It is also to inform them that tattling is not helpful.  You must outlaw the option of judging.

If redirecting doesn’t help, facilitate dialogue with the third party. In very few situations would it be wise to over-manage and take on this issue for the employee. You will very quickly learn how true or important the issues are once you offer to bring the other person into the dialogue. If there is truly a conflict that needs to be resolved, what better way than getting all the parties together for a conversation?

Finally, use these meetings for status updates and to share with each person what they do that is helpful and what they do that hinders. Base each person’s individual goals on the outcomes of these conversations. Call the individual up to greatness and develop their capacity to see themselves as capable people who can take helpful action, not dependent employees who must come to you for every situation that arises.

There Is No ‘I’ in Team

The original spirit of this statement was to encourage teamwork and prevent people from working in a vacuum. Teamwork is important so one group isn’t resource-deprived while another has surplus. But, leaders have started to overuse this concept to a point where it is hindering results because there is hardly any focus on personal accountability.

There is an unintended correlation between companies focused on quality and the lack of personal accountability in the employee base. That is because quality improvement efforts involve process improvement. When processes aren’t working, leaders focus on the process and not the people.

In general, this is a great idea. However, problems occur when leaders start telling people that issues aren’t associated with people at all, but rather, with the processes. So, when things aren’t working, leaders try to make process changes, only to find out there is inconsistent use of the processes already in place.

A fundamental role of a manager is to make sure people are following the processes. After that, personal accountability is necessary to drive a team to better business results by providing accurate feedback on a process first-hand. If we assume everyone is accountable on a broad level, we inadvertently create a situation where no one is accountable on an individual level. That is part of a recipe for losing.

About the Author:

Cy Wakeman is the author of Reality Based Leadership – Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results and the NY Times bestseller Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace.

She is a keynote speaker at the IPMA Canada Leadership Summit 2014, October 22nd in Halifax. To register, please visit:

She will also be speaking at the 2014 All Ships Rise Conference, October 22nd in Halifax. To register for this event, please visit: